(Following is written in response to ‘Exporting Evil: Saddam’s Hidden Weapons’,screened 22 September 1998, produced by ITN Factual Productions for Channel 5 in association with Damien Lewis, directed by Damien Lewis)
We write to register a formal complaint about the above programme, screened by Channel 5 on 22 September 1998.
We are sure that Channel 5, ITN Factual Productions, and Damien Lewis are aware that allegations of involvement in weapons of mass destruction transfer are perhaps the most heinous that can be leveled at any government, organization or individual. It is for that reason that when any such allegations are made we feel that those making the allegations have a particular duty to ensure that the claims they make are factual and can be supported by clear, direct and compelling evidence.
The documentary claimed to have evidence: “that Sudan is making advanced weapons of mass destruction” and that it would further reveal: “evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has secretly been moving it chemical and biological weapons into Sudan”
The programme also said that it would present the “untold story of the secret transfer of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq to the Sudan”.
The British-Sudanese Public Affairs Council exists to improve Anglo-Sudanese relations and closely follows media coverage of Sudan. We were understandably concerned about the claims made in and have spent the last four weeks conducting our own examination, both in Britain and in Sudan, of the claims made in the programme.
Having reviewed the claims made in ‘Exporting Evil: Saddam’s Hidden Weapons’ it is clear to us that while leveling these very serious claims against the government of Sudan, the programme clearly failed to provide any such evidence. Not only did it not provide any such evidence, but it turned a blind eye to very clear evidence directly undermining or contradicting the central claim of the programme. In this instance we found the above programme to have been unprofessional and quite simply intellectually and factually dishonest in several of its claims.
The allegations made in the programme centred essentially around claims made by United States House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare in a report published in early February 1998. This report did indeed make several claims about weapons of mass destruction technology transfers from Iraq to several countries in the Middle East, one of which was said to have been Sudan. What the documentary did not reveal is that the claims made in this report were challenged and questioned by the United States government, the British government and by UNSCOM, all of whom stated that there simply was no evidence for such claims. And as we are sure is general knowledge, both the American and British governments are no friend of the Sudanese administration, with no reason to shelter Sudan from such allegations had they been valid. The role of the United Nations Special Commission is particularly relevant as they themselves were unable to verify the claims made in February and seven months later were still unable to support claims such as those made in the programme in question.
Surely when Channel 5, or any other public broadcaster, chooses to screen a program which makes allegations of involvement in weapons of mass destruction technology it is the least that can be asked that checks are made on that programme.
Factual Iinaccuracies from the very start of the Programme
There was almost from the start of the programme an indication of the somewhat slapdash treatment of simple facts by Mr Lewis. While these particular factual inaccuracies are not directly related to the central theme of the programme, they bear some attention as they have clear implications in terms of accuracy and professionalism for the rest of the programme content.
We refer firstly to the statement at or about the beginning of the programme that southern Sudan is “largely Christian”. This is a glaring inaccuracy. It is also a particularly odd mistake for someone such as Damien Lewis to have made, given that he claims to have visited and reported from Sudan on several occasions. One can only but speculate at the accuracy and professionalism of his past work on Sudan. This particular claim by Mr Lewis, while perhaps clearly fitting into programme characterised by similarly inaccurate stereotyped images of Sudan, is simply not the case, as would be clear from consulting any standard reference on Sudan. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s ‘Sudan: Country Profile 1994-95’, for example, records that Christians account for 15 percent of the southern population. This figure is carried in Human Rights Watch Africa’s 1996 report on Sudan. (1)
Channel 5, ITN Factual Productions and even Mr Lewis may also be interested in the percentage of Christians in southern Sudan quoted in ‘Sudan – A Country Study’. This study is published by the Federal Research division and Library of Congress, and is the definitive United States government guide. This study states clearly that:
“In the early 1990s possibly no more than 10 percent of southern Sudan’s population was Christian.”
This study is available on the internet. The internet reference for the above is cstdy:@[DOCID+sd0056}atlcweb2.loc.gov Standard references thus state that Christians account for between 10 and 15 percent of the population of southern Sudan. It is believed that Muslims account for between 12-14 percent of the southern population. By far the majority of southerners are neither Christian nor Muslim, and are adherents of native animist religions.
Statements such as the “largely Christian” south, made at the beginning of the programme, therefore, merely perpetuate an inaccurate stereotype of Sudan, and an equally inaccurate and superficial context for the Sudanese conflict. It is an disturbing mistake for Mr Lewis to have made. It would be similar to Mr Lewis claiming in a programme about Ireland or the United Kingdom that Northern Ireland is largely Roman Catholic. We would not expect such factual sloppiness and unprofessionalism in coverage in Europe, and we hope that Channel 5 and ITN Factual Productions believe that it is similarly unacceptable in coverage of African affairs.
We are not sure who it is who commissioned Damien Lewis to make this documentary, but one would hope that the next time they wish to employ someone to produce Sudan-related programmes they would choose someone a little more professional, someone who at the very least has studied the basic demographics of Sudan itself. The question which must be asked is if this programme was unable to accurately represent what are black and white facts about Sudan, what hope is there for its treatment of more complicated issues.
Sudan “Iraq’s Key Ally during Gulf War“
The second inaccurate claim made in the introduction to the programme was the statement that Sudan was Iraq’s “key ally” during the Gulf war. It is unclear which text Mr Lewis consulted with regard to this issue before making that claim. Those Arab countries that were not part of the anti-Saddam Hussein coalition included Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania and Sudan. While these countries remained outside of the anti-Saddam coalition that was built up, they all – including Sudan – endorsed the United Nations sanctions imposed on the Iraqi regime. At two meetings of the Arab League in the week after the invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990, the Council of Foreign Ministers on 3 August and the summit of Arab heads of state on 10 August, several Arab countries expressed reservations about the wording of Arab League statements and were also concerned about the deployment of American and British servicemen in the Gulf. The respected study of the Gulf War, ‘The Gulf War Reader: History, Documents, Opinion’, published by Random House, stated in respect to Sudan and other countries:
“It was not only the pressure of their publics that dictated their voting on 10 August…they were all genuinely concerned at the danger of a military confrontation between the US-led coalition and Iraq and fearful of its consequences for themselves and for the region as a whole. Nor did any of the dissenting countries at the government level condone the invasion of Kuwait or the violation of the moral and legal principles it entailed. All of them denounced the invasion in face-to- face meetings with Saddam and in repeated unilateral public statements.” (2)
We are unsure how Sudan’s public and private denunciation of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, as well as its support for several of the United Nations sanctions in respect of Iraq’s invasion makes Sudan a “key ally” of Iraq during the Gulf conflict. There was no military or diplomatic support by Sudan, or any of the other dissenting countries, for Iraq during the conflict. It is clear that along with several other Arab countries, Sudan chose to pursue what can only be described as a neutral stance towards Iraq during the Gulf war.
We would ask if Mr. Lewis could provide us with evidence to the contrary on this issue, as well as his definition of what constitutes a “key ally”?
Allegations of Weapons of Mass Destruction Technology transfers from Iraq to Sudan
We now move to the central theme of the programme.
Any viewing of the documentary will show that the interviews with Tim Trevan, Jack Ooms and Ewan Buchanan cannot be seen as evidence, hard or otherwise, to support the documentary’s claim of Iraqi transfers of weapons of mass destruction to Sudan: the most that Mr Ooms would say was a comment on the “possibility” of such transfers together with “strange stories”. Perhaps Mr Ooms summed up the gist of these interviews when he stated: “we really do not know exactly”
The allegations made in the programme centred essentially around claims made by United States House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare in a report published in early February 1998. As mentioned above, this report did allege the transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related technology from Iraq to Sudan and other countries in the Middle East. Amongst the report’s bolder claims was that 400 Scud missile systems had somehow been smuggled out of Iraq since the Gulf war in the face of an unprecedented sanctions regime imposed by the international community, UNSCOM, and the United States, British and allied governments. That is to say in this instance 1200 military vehicles (the Scud missile system has two support vehicles, without which it cannot operate) managed in the eye of unprecedented intensive physical and intelligence surveillance to get out of the most sanctioned and carefully scrutinised country in the world. Even to a layman this would seem to jar with reality. (3)
It is clear that the report did not just jar with laymen. It is a matter of record that on 17 February 1998, the United States government itself dismissed the claims in the report, unambiguously stating that there was no evidence for chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction technology transfers from Iraq to Sudan:
“We have no credible evidence that Iraq has exported weapons of mass destruction technology to other countries since the (1991) Gulf War.” (4)
In addition to the American government, in February and March 1998, the British government also stated that there was no evidence for any weapons of mass destruction technology transfers from Iraq to Sudan. This was the view of both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Defence Intelligence Staff of the British Ministry of Defence.
On 17 February 1998, for example, the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Robin Cook MP, was asked about reports of weapons of mass destruction technology transfers from Iraq to Sudan. Mr Cook replied:
“I am not aware of those reports. It would be a very difficult transfer to effect.” (5)
On 10 March 1998, replying to allegations of chemical weapons technology transfers from Iraq to Sudan, Tony Lloyd MP, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, clearly stated that:
“The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sudanese chemical warfare capabilities….The Foreign and Commonwealth Office cannot validate those reports, and is not aware of any fresh or substantiated evidence on the matter.” (6)
Lord Avebury laid down a written parliamentary question on this subject on 11 March 1998. Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs, replied:
“We are concerned at recent reports alleging such transfers, although we have not seen evidence to substantiate them.” (7)
On 19 March 1998, having had 4 weeks to check the claims made in the report so central to Mr Lewis’s programme, Baroness Symons stated in the House of Lords in relation to the report’s claims of weapons of mass destruction technology transfers, including chemical and biological weapons, from Iraq to Sudan, that:
“We are monitoring the evidence closely, but to date we have no evidence to substantiate these claims…. Moreover, we know that some of the claims are untrue…The defence intelligence staff in the MoD (Ministry of Defence) have similarly written a critique which does not support the report’s findings.” (8)
Baroness Symons also stated that:
“Nor has the United Nations Special Commission reported any evidence of such transfers since the Gulf War conflict and the imposition of sanctions in 1991.” (9)
The citing by Baroness Symons of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) is very significant. The British government had clearly checked in February and March with UNSCOM, the body in charge of disarming Iraq of all nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic missile systems, and therefore the central source of all intelligence relating to these issues as well as possible Iraqi attempts to export its technology. UNSCOM clearly indicated that there was no evidence to support the claims made in the US Task Force report or by Mr Lewis.
The central theme of ‘Exporting Evil: Saddam’s Hidden Weapons’ was also contradicted by the comments made by UNSCOM spokesman Ewan Buchanan, made following the American attack on the al-Shifa factory, when he commented on exactly the kind of claim made in the documentary:
“We have heard lots of claims like these and there are various reports about cooperation between Iraq and Sudan, but we have been unable to confirm it ourselves.” (10)
Even Scott Ritter, the outspoken American United Nations Iraqi weapons inspector who resigned his position because he believed the American government was not hard enough on Iraq, when directly asked about alleged chemical weapons and Iraqi involvement in Sudan, stated that:
“We are into a lot of speculation here.” (11)
The simple question which has to be asked is, was Mr Lewis aware of the above statements by the White House, the British government and UNSCOM, all of which clearly highlight the inadequacy of the Task Force report which is so central to his documentary, and all of which simply indicate that there is no evidence to support the very serious claims he makes in his documentary. It is a matter of record that Mr Lewis even interviewed the UNSCOM spokesman Mr Buchanan. Why did he not ask Mr Buchanan a simple direct question on the issue of claims of weapons of mass destruction transfers from Iraq to Sudan?
That Mr Lewis did not reflect the above statements by the American and British governments and UNSCOM in his documentary can only but lead to two possible conclusions. The first is that he was aware of these statements but chose not to include them as they would have undermined the central theme of his documentary. The second is that he and his staff and company were unaware of these statements.
In either instance Mr Lewis has been unprofessional. To have known about the refutation of his argument contained in the statements by the American and British governments and UNSCOM, and to have chosen to turn a blind eye to such key evidence on the subject of allegations of weapons of mass destruction technology would have been intellectually dishonest and unprofessional. This arbitrary and highly selective use of evidence would be questionable in any instance. Such a selective use of evidence concerning such a serious allegation as involvement in weapons of mass destruction technology transfer is especially questionable and simply unacceptable by any code of journalist ethics.
Alternatively, it may be that Mr Lewis and the various people who researched and worked with him on the programme were simply unaware of the vital statements outlined above. If this is the case then Mr Lewis was quite simply not up to the task Channel 5 and ITN Factual Productions set him. Once again it is the seriousness of the claims made by Mr Lewis which would demand the very highest professional standards in researching such a delicate and serious subject. If Mr Lewis was unaware that the American and British governments and UNSCOM had not been able to confirm, and in some cases actually denied, claims made in the report that provided the central focus of his programme, that too would cast serious doubt on his journalistic professionalism.
Did Mr. Lewis interview any foreign diplomats in Khartoum?
It appears from the programme that Mr Lewis and his crew spent some time in Khartoum in the days and weeks after the American attack on the al- Shifa pharmaceutical factory. He simply cannot have been unaware of the deep reservations expressed by important foreign diplomats in Khartoum about the very claims which formed the basis of his documentary. These reservations have been extensively publicised.
It was reported, for example, that the German ambassador to Sudan, Werner Daum, had immediately contradicted United States claims about the factory. In a communication to the German foreign ministry, he stated:
“One can’t, even if one wants to, describe the Shifa firm as a chemical factory.” (12)
The German ambassador also stated that the factory had no disguise and there was nothing secret about the site. (13)
‘The Guardian’ interviewed a senior European diplomat who said stated that since the end of the Gulf War, Sudan had been strictly monitored in accord with the chemical weapons precursor substance convention to which all industrialised countries have signed up and which bans the export of any substance on the proscribed list. The diplomat pointed out that a tight monitoring system means it would have been practically impossible for any such substances to have entered Sudan unnoticed. (14) The diplomat stated that:
“The substances are severely controlled and are firmly in the hands of producers in the industrialised world. There’s a system of internal alert which makes sure that information on any order for the substances which was out of the ordinary would be shared with police in the countries which are potential suppliers.” (15)
The diplomat added that Sudan had never been discovered trying to circumvent the international monitoring of substances and equipment essential to the production of chemical weapons.
Did Mr. Lewis consult with chemical weapons experts who watch Sudan closely?
It is also perhaps clear that Mr. Lewis chose not to include any of the comments of chemical weapons experts who monitor Sudan on this issue. Amy Smithson, a senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a national security think tank in Washington-DC, said that there was “no concrete evidence” that Iraq was involved in developing a chemical weapons capability in Sudan:
“This bombing incident came out of the blue for a number of people. Sudan has never appeared on any public list ever released by intelligence agencies in the U.S., Europe or Russia.” (16)
Sudan was not a country identified as having a capacity for producing chemical weapons. The internationally-renowned Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States, also stated that there was “no confirmed evidence of a chemical weapons program”, and “no confirmed evidence of a biological weapons program”.
The Center for Nonproliferation Studies concluded that:
“Studies of chemical weapons proliferation do not identify Sudan as a country of concern.” (17)
Flights from Sudan into Iraq
The programme made much of claims that Sudanese planes had flown in and out of Baghdad. Mr Lewis states that: “Under the terms of the Gulf war ceasefire these flights shouldn’t have] been happening but the Sudanese planes had been granted special permission to land by another UN agency. Officially they were flying in food aid from famine-ridden Sudan.”
In the opening words to the documentary, Mr Lewis states that these were “clandestine” flights to Iraq. Yet a little further on in his own documentary he correctly states that these Sudanese flights were food flights approved by the United Nations. Mr Lewis clearly insinuates however that this was not the case, pointedly stating that there was famine in Sudan.
Once again despite his claims to have some prior knowledge of Sudan, Mr Lewis appears to only have a less than adequate grasp of circumstances within Sudan. It is true that there has been famine in Sudan in the 1980s and for a few years within the 1990s. As Mr Lewis may be aware the famine-stricken parts of Sudan are largely within war-devastated and rebel controlled areas of southern Sudan. As Mr Lewis may also be aware the United Nations ‘Operation Lifeline Sudan’ is the agreed provider of food aid to these areas. Operation Lifeline Sudan’s own procurement rules only allow for externally-sourced food.
Northern Sudan has been almost entirely famine free, and is not just self-sufficient in food but also often has food surpluses which are exported from time to time. In addition, as Mr Lewis should be aware, Sudan has one of the largest livestock herds in Africa, amounting to over one hundred million head of livestock. What Mr Lewis appears to be unaware of is the fact that Sudan has been providing considerable amounts of Sudanese meat to Iraq under the strict guidelines of the United Nations Sanctions Committee food for oil programme. These shipments are very tightly regulated by the United Nations and these meat shipments are delivered by cargo plane to Iraq where their arrival and departure are UN monitored. The extent of the vetting that accompanies such food for oil procedures was outlined in August by Gabriel Carlyle, an Oxford academic who has studied this issue, who has recorded that:
“The sanctions committee has been notorious for blocking – or subjecting to prolonged delay – the most innocuous of requests. For example, the committee once deliberated for 170 days before approving one consignment of syringes to Iraq.” (18)
The question one has to ask is does Mr Lewis really wish us to believe that the American government would have permitted the American representatives on this committee to approve Sudanese meat contracts under the food for oil programme had there been the slightest reason to suspect any aspect of it of involvement in the transfer of weapons of mass destruction technology from Iraq to Sudan?
The documentary contained considerable footage of large Antonov cargo planes being landing and being loaded and unloaded. It is unclear if these were the cargo planes in question, in which instance there would appear to have been little or no security or secrecy or restrictions on filming what were said to be top secret flights. If they were not the Sudanese planes in question it should have been made clear that these were reconstructed or representational images. Jack Ooms once again stated in connection with these flights that he did not know exactly what was going on.
Once again it is clear that Mr Lewis simply did not take the time to adequately investigate the issue of Sudanese food flights to Iraq. The British-Sudanese Public Affairs Council was able within a comparatively short time to ascertain the simple facts behind these Sudanese food flights to Iraq. Why was Mr Lewis seemingly unable to manage this despite six months of working on this programme? This can only but once again reflect on Mr Lewis’s professionalism.
Human Rights Watch‘s Joost Hilterman
It is unclear how Mr Hilterman’s interview advanced the programme’s central theme of weapons of mass destruction transfers from Iraq to Sudan, or Sudan’s involvement in weapons of mass destruction. Mr Hilterman describes a visit he made to the ‘Administration for Chemical Warfare’ section of the Sudanese army. As Mr Hilterman’s interview confirms, there appears to have been little hidden or secretive about this section of the Sudanese army given that its location and presence is openly signposted on the road. He was shown gas-masks and training rounds and was told that this was where army recruits are trained to use gas-masks. Once again even Mr Hilterman admits there was nothing conclusive that could be drawn from his visit. It is a matter of fact that virtually every large army in the world gives its recruits at least a very basic training in what to expect in chemical warfare. In Britain even Territorial Army recruits receive such training – training which includes being exposed to tear gas with and without a gas mask, and there are regular anti-gas drills involving the use of protective clothing and anti-gas measures. There would seem to be little doubt that Mr Hilterman was able to visit the Sudanese military’s equivalent training school.
SPLA claims of “Chemical Weapons“
Mr Lewis made much of a visit he made to a part of southern Sudan controlled by rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). They claimed that chemical weapons had been used against them in an encounter with Sudanese government forces. As “evidence” they showed him three mortar rounds they said had been captured from government forces. All showed normal convention military markings, including one which was a white phosphorous mortar round: all are standard ammunition which every army in the world would be familiar with. For obvious reasons chemical weapons rounds are specially marked. Even Mr Lewis had to concede that this was not evidence of chemical weapons or the use of chemical weapons. The most he was able to conclude was that Dutch weapons inspectors said that mortar rounds in general could be adapted to deliver mustard gas. The truth is that virtually any mortar or artillery round can be adapted. The mortar rounds in question were obviously ordinary ammunition rounds.
It must be placed on record that in any instance considerable caution must be exercised with regard to SPLA claims. Dr Peter Nyaba, a member of the SPLA’s own national executive, in his book ‘The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider’s View’, has spoken candidly of the SPLA’s “sub-culture of lies, misinformation, cheap propaganda and exhibitionism”:
“Much of what filtered out of the SPLM/A propaganda machinery, notably Radio SPLA, was about 90% disinformation or things concerned with the military combat, mainly news about the fighting which were always efficaciously exaggerated.” (19)
It would be interesting to speculate on whether the SPLA claims of chemical warfare uncritically and unconditionally repeated by Mr Lewis fall within the 90 percent of “disinformation” said to be put out by the SPLA propaganda machinery according to a serving member of the SPLA’s own national executive.
A prime example of the SPLA’s “subculture of lies” and misinformation were its claims surrounding the airplane crash in southern Sudan in early February 1998 which claimed the lives of the Sudanese first vice-president, Lieutenant-General al-Zubeir Mohammed Saleh and a number of other officials. SPLA spokesman Justin Yaac claimed on 12 February that SPLA forces had shot down the plane as it was passing through “an area we control”. (20) As the truth emerged about the crash, which was the result of poor visibility during landing, the SPLA had to withdraw its claim. SPLA spokesman John Luk stated that they had no forces in the area in southern Sudan where the crash occurred. (21)
Sudanese Northern Opposition Claims
This section of the programme involved claims made by ‘Yasir’, a source who made claims about convoys of Iraqis allegedly moving weapons of mass destruction technology through the streets of Khartoum, having presumably arrived at the airport. Given the picture previously presented by Mr Lewis of Scud missile-sized containers being seen at Baghdad airport, the viewer was then asked to believe that Scud missiles and missile launchers and other weapons of mass destruction technology were being trundled around the streets of Khartoum in convoys driven and manned by Iraqis. This was said to have occurred between 1991 and 1994. Mr Lewis would have to do a lot better than this. If this information, presented by a Sudanese northern opposition source, is correct it is very difficult to imagine that it had not been previously either been presented to, or had been come across by, the American and British governments, and their diplomats and intelligence sources in Sudan. Its credibility can be tested by the fact once again that in February and March of this year the American and British governments and UNSCOM have stated that there was no credible evidence for any such activity.
The same applies to the document presented to Mr Lewis and said to have been a minute of a Sudanese government meeting on the subject of chemical weapons. We have shown the footage said to show this minute to Ambassador Mahdi Ibrahim, the Sudanese ambassador to the United States, and one of the people said to have been present, and to have spoken, at the meeting in question. Ambassador Ibrahim stated that that the minute is clearly faked, as can easily be proved by the timings and the movement of people said to have been present.
It should also perhaps be noted in this regard that ‘The New York Times’ of 21 September 1998, and the London ‘Times’ of 22 September, reported that the American Central Intelligence Agency had had to withdraw more than one hundred of its intelligence reports alleging Sudanese involvement in terrorism and related issues after it had realised that their sources had simply been making them up. A number of these fabricated reports had come from Sudanese northern opposition sources. Mr Lewis should perhaps have exercised a little more caution before accepting and broadcasting such similar and equally serious allegations from Sudanese northern opposition sources at face value.
Mr Lewis referred to high-level claims about a Sudanese threat to use chemical weapons against Uganda. We would certainly be interested in his source for this claim. In several years of watching Sudan and Sudanese affairs very closely indeed, we have never come across such a claim. It has simply never been previously documented. It would appear to have been somewhat conveniently made available for his documentary by Ugandan sources. As Mr Lewis, however, is possibly aware, the Ugandan government has for several years been supportive of the violent overthrow of the present Sudanese administration. It allows SPLA rebels to use Ugandan soil to launch attacks on Sudan itself, and Ugandan Parliamentarians have themselves documented that Uganda facilitates the supply of weapons and other war materiel to Sudanese rebels. Brigade-sized Ugandan armoured and infantry units have been committed in support of SPLA forces inside Sudan itself: Ugandan servicemen have been killed and taken prisoner inside Sudan.
To use an analogy, therefore, accepting any ‘high’ Ugandan claims about Sudan, a country the Ugandan government is virtually at war with, would be similar to accepting at face value Nazi propaganda claims about the Soviet Union during world war two – and vice versa. We in Britain have, of course, had our own particular experience of the use of propaganda in wartime – one need only think back to the infamous Bryce report in 1915 which produced British propaganda claims of German soldiers bayoneting babies and crucifying Belgian nuns – claims now acknowledged as deliberately fabricated. Mr Lewis would have been well advised to have exercised considerable caution in accepting any claims emanating from the somewhat repressive Ugandan authorities as proof of anything.
It is clear from any study of Mr Lewis’s documentary that while making very serious allegations, indeed perhaps the most serious allegations that can be made against a country, he produced very little if any evidence indeed – certainly nothing which would support the serious claims he made:
The majority of the people Mr Lewis presented and interviewed, Messrs Ooms, Hilterman, Treven and Buchanan themselves either did not directly address the issue or clearly acknowledged there was no conclusive evidence of any such weapons of mass destruction transfer.
Mr Lewis made the most out of claims that there were “clandestine” flights by Sudanese cargo aircraft in and out of Sudan. Yet in almost the same breath he also states that these flights were food flights authorised by the United Nations. Had he done any research into these flights he would have easily established that these flights were flying United Nations Sanctions Committee approved consignments of Sudanese meat into Iraq – a process rigorously monitored by the United Nations.
Mr Lewis’s own visit to the site of a battleground where chemical weapons were said to have been used also patently produced no evidence. He was shown mortar bombs with normal markings, which the SPLA claimed definitely contained chemical agents: Mr Lewis could only report that he was told by Dutch chemical weapons experts that these mortar bombs were of a type that could be used to deliver mustard gas. As virtually any explosive munitions can be adapted to deliver chemical weapons, this particular exercise was also inconclusive.
His unqualified reliance on claims made by both the SPLA and Sudanese northern opposition sources to lend support to the claims made in the documentary can only but be undermined by the documented examples of misinformation and deliberate disinformation by these sources.
The Task Force report published in early February 1998 which underpinned the programme’s claims was itself disowned and contradicted by the American government itself – an administration committed to the removal of the Sudanese government and which would presumably have welcomed such a report had it been credible. The British government, the Foreign Office, and Defence Intelligence Staff as well as the United Nations Special Commission – perhaps the single most authoritative source – also contradicted the report, clearly stating there was no credible evidence for any such weapons of mass destruction transfers from Iraq to Sudan.
It does have to be asked that if he was aware of the above statements, why were they not included in his report? If he was not aware of these statements would that not reflect negatively on his research skills? In either case his professionalism as a journalist is in question. And whereas Channel 5, ITN Factual Productions and Mr Lewis may be able to get away with less than professional standards in other productions, such slapdash work on an issue as grave as allegations of weapons of mass destruction technology is simply unacceptable.
It should be pointed out in all candour that the United States government has had more than two months since its destruction of the al-Shifa medicines factory to adequately explain and prove their allegations about the factory and chemical warfare facilities in Sudan. Not only has it not done so, but Washington continues to block an independent United Nations examination of the al-Shifa site or of American claims about chemical weapons production or use in Sudan. This American position is made all the more puzzling given that in February this year the United States, and the United Kingdom, were on the verge of going to war against Iraq in order to force Iraq to allow the United Nations access to Iraqi factories and installations suspected of involvement in the manufacture of chemical weapons.
It is not unreasonable to assume therefore that if the United States government, with all the awesome intelligence gathering resources at its disposal cannot convincingly prove the Sudan is involved in the production of chemical weapons, then Mr Lewis, who demonstrated his somewhat shaky research skills and lack of a grip on even basic facts about Sudan early on in his programme, may well have been unable to do so.
We would like to ask Channel 5, and ITN Factual Productions the following questions:
1. Does Channel 5 or ITN Factual Productions not have a procedure whereby they check the content of documentaries or programmes they screen or which are produced in their name?
2. Did Channel 5 or ITN Factual Productions not double check this particular programme given the very sensitive and delicate subject of the programme, and especially given the nature of the exceptionally serious allegations and claims being made in the programme?
3. Does Channel 5 or ITN Factual Productions concede that the programme in question contained elementary factual inaccuracies, including basics about Sudan’s population and demographics?
4. Was Channel 5 or ITN Factual Productions aware that the central theme of their programme had been challenged by several statements by the United States government, the British government and the United Nations Special Commission?
5. Does Channel 5 or ITN Factual Productions believe it to have been professional and ethical for the serious claims made in Mr Lewis’s programme to have been carried in the face of such authoritative statements undermining the programme’s central claims, and without any reference to these statements being made in the programme itself?
6. Could Channel 5 or ITN Factual Productions confirm to us whether or not Mr Lewis was himself aware of the statements by the American and British governments and UNSCOM which contradicted the claims made in his programme, and if so why they were not mentioned or included in the programme?
7. Could Channel 5 or ITN Factual Productions confirm whether or not Mr Lewis asked Mr Ewan Buchanan, the UNSCOM spokesman, if there was evidence for the programme’s claims of weapons of mass destruction transfers from Iraq to Sudan? If he did not, what was his reason for not asking that simple question of perhaps the best qualified person and organisation with respect to the allegations made in ‘Exporting Evil: Saddam’s Hidden Weapons ?’
We realise that we have presented a detailed complaint. We are sure, however, that you will realise that given the gravity of the claims made in ‘Exporting Evil: Saddam’s Hidden Weapons’ it is only proper that our concern about the content and professionalism of the programme should be outlined in suitable detail. As may be evident, the British-Sudanese Public Affairs Council has spent a considerable time in researching and presenting these concerns. We respectfully request a similarly serious response to the points and concerns we have outlined.
We are able to provide any of the newspaper articles or documents mentioned in the body of this complaint. We are additionally attaching a number of documents in relation to the points we have raised above.
It is only fair to mention that we are considering raising our concerns with the broadcasting watchdogs under whose scrutiny this programme may also fall.
We look forward to your reply.
1 ‘Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan’, published by Human Rights Watch/Africa, New York, 1996, p.193.
2 Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf (Editors), ‘The Gulf War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions’, Times Books, Random House, 1991, p.162-64.
3 The authoritative ‘Military Lessons of the Gulf War’ (Greenhill Books, London 1993), co-authored by, amongst others, Bruce George MP, two House of Commons analysts, U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency analysts, and experts from the U.S. Army Intelligence Threat and Analysis Center, clearly states that Iraq only had two hundred Scuds when the Gulf war began (page 154). The same report states that at least 86 Scuds were fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia. As we also know a number of Scud missile systems were also destroyed by air-strikes and special forces. It is unclear where the report’s 400 new Scud missiles came from.
4 ‘White House Says No Sign Iraq Exported Arms’, News Article by Reuters on February 17, 1998 at 10:20:45.
5 House of Commons ‘Hansard’, 17 February 1998, column 903.
6 House of Commons ‘Hansard’, 10th March 1998, col. 462.
7 House of Lords Official ‘Official Report’, 11 March 1998, column WA 65/66.
8 House of Lords ‘Official Report’, 19th March 1998, cols. 818-820.
9 House of Lords ‘Official Report’, 19th March 1998, cols. 818-820.
10 ‘Experts Hear Tales, but Evidence Scarce: Sharing Efforts in Weapons?’, ABCNews.com, 21 August, 1998.
11 ‘Tracking Terror’, ‘Newsweek’, 7 September 1998.
12 ‘Sudanese plant “not built for weapons”‘, ‘The Observer’, 30 August 1998.
13 ‘Destroyed Sudanese Factory Produces only Drugs: German Ambassador’, News Article by Xinhua on August 30, 1998 at 00:00:31.
14 ‘The Guardian’, 27 August 1998.
15 ‘Diplomats query US allegations on Sudan’, ‘The Financial Times’, 29 August 1998.
16 ‘Experts Hear Tales, but Evidence Scarce: Sharing Efforts in Weapons?’, ABCNews.com, 21 August, 1998.
17 ‘Sudan: Weapons of Mass Destruction Capabilities and Programs’, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, at http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/wmdme/sudan/htm .
18 ‘Letters to the Editor’, ‘The Daily Telegraph’, 26 August 1998.
19 Dr Peter Nyaba, ‘The Politics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider’s View’, Fountain Publishers, Kampala, 1997, pp.55, 66.
20 ‘Sudan rebels say they downed vice-president’s plane’, News Article by Reuters on February 12, 1998 at 11:48:31.
21 ‘Sudan rebels withdraw plane crash claim’, News Article by Reuters on February 13, 1998 at 05:15.
The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council sent this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN)